The plasma membrane assembly of aquaporin-4 (AQP4) water channels into orthogonal arrays of particles (OAPs) involves interactions of AQP4 N-terminal domains. To study in live cells the site of OAP assembly, the size and dynamics of plasma membrane OAPs, and the heterotetrameric associations of AQP4, we constructed green fluorescent protein (GFP)-labeled AQP4 "long" (M1) and "short" (M23) isoforms in which GFP was inserted at the cytoplasm-facing N or C terminus or between Val-141 and Val-142 in the second extracellular loop of AQP4. The C-terminal and extracellular loop GFP insertions did not interfere with the rapid unrestricted membrane diffusion of GFP-labeled M1 or the restricted diffusion and OAP assembly of GFP-labeled M23. Photobleaching of brefeldin A-treated cells showed comparable and minimally restricted diffusion of M1 and M23, indicating that OAP assembly occurs post-endoplasmic reticulum. Single-molecule step photobleaching and intensity analysis of GFP-labeled M1 in the absence versus presence of excess unlabeled M1 or M23 with an OAP-disrupting mutation indicated heterotetrameric AQP4 association. Time-lapse total internal reflection fluorescence imaging of M23 in live cells at 37 degrees C indicated that OAPs diffuse slowly (D approximately 10(-12) cm(2)/s) and rearrange over tens of minutes. Our biophysical measurements in live cells thus reveal extensive AQP4 monomer-monomer and tetramer-tetramer interactions.
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